By Emily Drooby
PUTNAM VALLEY, N.Y. — Naima used to describe herself as shy, but after six years at Camp Felix, now she can sing in front of a huge crowd during a talent show.
“When I first came I was a little scared,” Naima said. “I’m a normally shy person. I’m not as shy as I was before, I’m a lot more open.”
Camp Felix is a monthlong overnight summer camp in Putnam Valley, N.Y., about an hour’s drive north of New York City. It was co-founded 14 years ago by the New York Foundling, one of the state’s oldest and largest child welfare human service agencies. It was founded by the Sisters of Charity in 1869.
All of the campers are from New York City’s foster care system.
“You can look past all of the bad things, you can look past all of that and still have fun, having fun is the most important thing about camp. Just have fun and let loose,” Naima said.
In 2018, more than 9,000 kids were in New York City’s foster care system. About 1,000 of them from all over New York, including from the Diocese of Brooklyn, have enjoyed the camp for free. Each summer, about 150 to 200 children ages 8 to 13 attend the camp.
Bill Baccaglini, president and CEO of the New York Foundling, said the camp is a place where kids can just be kids.
“Just looking at the smile on these kids’ faces, and the way they kid around with each other, they’re kids. Even though these kids have been through a lot of different things, at the end of the day, they’re kids and it’s great,” he said.
From the rock-climbing walls to the pool, the children have so much fun at Camp Felix that they keep coming back year after year.
Naima described it as, “just happiness, always being brought up, never being put down.”
Now, just like almost 40 other former campers, she’s training to become a counselor. She wants to help other kids have the same positive experiences she got to have.
“I felt like it was going to be different than any other place I’ve been to. It was going to be fun,” said Sarah, a first-time camper who already wants to come back next year. “I saw the pool. I really wanted to go there; we were able to. I was really happy. I just feel like this was home.”